Antrim see off Down challenge but there is work to be done before clash with Laois

Leinster Under 20 Hurling Championship Play-Off

Down 1-13 Antrim 3-17

Paul McIntyre reports from Ballycran.

Crucial goals, scored at crucial times, helped Antrim see off a spirited Down side at Ballycran on Tuesday evening and advance to set up a round two clash against Laois next Tuesday evening in Navan.

Goals either side of the half time whistle from Rian ‘Bubbles’ McMullan and Michael McGarry helped put the Saffron’s in a commanding position but Ronan Sheehan’s side battled gamely and only for a missed penalty in the 45th minute, the final quarter could’ve had a very different look to it.

Tom McGratten who top scored for Down

Speaking after the full time whistle, coach Johnny McIntosh was keen to praise all twenty players that took to the field.  “We’re happy, and as we said to the players, we’re very happy with the impact and the attitude of the subs coming on. They made a big difference. We never probably played as well as we would’ve liked. We probably got a lucky break just before the half to get a goal and that put us ten up and that maybe gave us a wee bit more comfort at half time that we probably deserved to be honest. In fairness to the lads, they kept tearing away, they made the chances for themselves.”

While happy with the result, McIntosh knows that next week will require a a step up in performance if they are to advance any further in the competition. “We’ve a load to work on, absolutely tonnes to work on. We know we have a massive challenge on our hands next Tuesday night. We know what we have and we know what we have to do and we know we’ve a big challenge ahead for us, but we have tonnes to improve on and that’s the main thing. We certainly know what went on here today and it will not do next week so we’re looking forward to it and we’ll see how we’ll go.”

It was a cagey opening period with Down’s Tom McGrattan twice putting the hosts ahead with Daire Murphy twice levelling matters for Antrim. These opening four scores all came from placed balls and the fifth one was also a free as Declan McCloskey pushed Antrim ahead for the first time after 9 minutes.

The first score from play arrived in the 10th minute from Loughgiel’s McMullan before McGrattan’s third free cut the arrears to just one point.

Seanie McIntosh registered his firts score of the game on 13 minutes and this proved to be the catalyst for a period of total dominance for the young Saffrons as they outscored their hosts 1-7 to 0-1 before the half time whistle.

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Antrim full back Rory McCloskey

Niall O’Connor, Ciaran McQuillan and Cormac Donnelly were the dominant players in the middle sector, and with Conal Bohill’s strong direct running causing Down all sorts of problems, Antrim made the most of playing with a strong first half breeze.

McIntosh and Michael McGarry helped establish a four point lead before Murphy converted a further three frees before Bohill saw his attempt at goal bounce off the inside of Cathal Lavery’s right-hand post.

After McGrattan conjured up a point from nothing for Down, McMullan struck for Antrim’s first goal on the stroke of half time. Murphy’s shot was pushed away by Lavery and the Shamrocks attacker was quickest to the loose ball and pounce to give his side a ten point half time lead, 1-11 to 0-4.

After Sean Hughes had opened the second half scoring for Down, Antrim struck for the games second goal on 33 minutes. Another trademark run through the Down defence, Bohill picked out Michael McGarry who rifled past Laverty to open up a 12 point lead.

McMullan from a free and a further McIntosh point kept Antrim well on top before two Sean Hughes points brought Down to within 10 points when they were given a lifeline to get back into the contest.

Rory McCloskey was adjudged to have been holding Down replacement Francis Caldwell and referee Leon Reynolds awarded a penalty, but Stuart Martin’s effort failed to trouble Paul Doherty, and the Dunloy netminder was able to clear the ball to safety.

Antrim’s Seanie McIntosh runs at the Down defence

Down to their credit kept plugging away and two minutes later McGrattan found a way past Doherty to give the Mournemen a much needed boost, but they still trailed 2-14 to 1-9.

Four minutes later and any sign of a late comeback from the hosts were put to bed. McQuillan’s effort at a point seemed to be drifting harmlessly wide, but while everyone else turned away to await the puck out second half substitute Dannan McKeough kept the ball in play and rounded his marker to fire past Lavery for Antrim’s third goal.

As Down tagged on a few late points Antrim advanced largely unscathed as McMullan brought proceedings to and end as he clipped over his sixth score with the final puck of the game.

Down’s James Clarke in action against Antrim’s Declan McCloskey

Teams & Scorers:

Down: Cathal Lavery, Ciaran Savage, Michael Toner, Eoin Pucci, Rory Brown, Aodhan Furlong (0-1), Ryan Convery, Ciaran McMullan (0-1), Caolan Coulter (0-2), Eoin Magee, Sea Hughes (0-2f), Owen McDermott, James Clarke, Stuart Martin, Tom McGrattan (1-7, 4f).

Subs: Ryan O’Neill for McDermott (33), Francis Caldwell for Clarke (42), Jon Fisher for Magee (47), Oran Young for Savage (47).

Antrim: Paul Doherty, Donal Kearney, Rory McCloskey, Conor Henry, Enda McGarry, Niall O’Connor, Declan McCloskey (0-1f), Ciaran McQuillan (0-1), Cormac Donnelly, Daire Murphy (0-5f), Conal Bohill, Ronan McAteer, Rian McMullan (0-6 2f), Michael McGarry (1-1), Seanie McIntosh (1-3).

Subs: Dannan McKeogh (1-0) for Bohill (47), Caoimhn Heaney for Kearney (50), Ciaran Magill for E McGarry (52), Ryan Hill for McAteer (57), Oliver Kearney for M McGarry (60).

Referee: Mr Leon Reynolds (Armagh)

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